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An Introduction to "Citizen Brain"

A Video Series Connecting Brain Science and Social Justice.

I’m so thrilled about this — verklempt, even! Hot off the presses from my editor, this video1 is an introduction to the “Citizen Brain” series that has been my labor of love for the past several years.

It all began when I sent an email reaching out to Dr. Bruce Miller, founding director of UCSF’s Memory and Aging Center (MAC). Two brilliant friends of mine — a poet (Jane Hirshfield) and a clown (Geoff Hoyle) — had been, at different points, visiting artists at the MAC, and the experience had, well, blown their minds. I was wondering whether I might do the same. As I learned from Dr. Miller a short time later, when we met in his office, it so happened that another MAC-based program was starting up just then: the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI), which was about to bring in its first cohort of GBHI Fellows — people from around the world, with diverse specialties, who were passionate about promoting equity in brain health, including scientists, policymakers, activists … and artists. Happily, I became a part of that cohort — and quickly got immersed in brain stuff: attending classes, consultations between doctors and patients and their caregivers, dissections of brain tissue (a procedure called “brain blocking”), and regular meetings with my mentor, Dr. Miller.2 This became — and remains — one of the most gratifying, revelatory periods of my life.

The “Citizen Brain” video series (along with a theatrical solo show with the same title) is a product of my GBHI Fellowship. In it, I — and a dazzling group of video-making collaborators — address two existential crises facing humanity: the burgeoning epidemic of brain disease (which hits especially hard among oppressed and marginalized populations) and the rise of powerful political forces that threaten to break apart our democracy. Amid these enormous challenges, our series finds hope in the incredible human capacity for empathy — and reveals, thanks to recent discoveries in neuroscience, exactly where in our brain that empathy comes from. Along the way, we tackle important, brain-related issues: among them, ageism, loneliness, othering, and ideological extremism.

I hope you enjoy this introductory video — and that you will share it with others, as well as go on to explore the individual episodes. Thanks to what I have learned as a GBHI Fellow, I find myself dreaming of a kind of worldwide revolution of empathy, based not on wishful thinking but on actual science: brain science.


For a version of this video with closed captions, click here.


Dr. Miller is renowned for (among other things) his pioneering work in the study of Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD), a disease that is discussed in this video. A sad coincidence: this week it was revealed that, tragically, the actor Bruce Willis suffers from this devastating illness.

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But Not Enough About Me
But Not Enough About Me
Josh Kornbluth